Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers, and John Kuhn are key members of the Packers offense. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Green Bay Packers: Five must-win home games of 2013

Protecting Aaron Rodgers will be a key component to a successful 2013 season by the Green Bay Packers.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

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Now that we’ve all had a chance to digest the Green Bay Packers 2013 regular season schedule, there are many who feel the Packers have gotten hosed with this one.

It’s a tough schedule, no doubt, but to complain about getting hosed at this place in time is pointless. It is what it is and the Packers coaches and players have to start preparing to play the teams who are lined up in their way to a Super Bowl.

While every game is important and a must-win, there are five games on this schedule that stand out to me. They are all home games the Packers will have to win to keep the 2013 season run going.

The guidance by Mike McCarthy and the Packers coaching staff is one of the reasons the Packers have been so successful the past seven years.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

While it’s always imperative that inter-divisional games are won, I haven’t included the Vikings, Lions and Bears on this list – it’s obvious the Packers have to win those games to come out at the end of a successful campaign. The teams I have targeted as must-wins are the Redskins, Browns, Eagles, Falcons and Steelers.

Here’s my reasoning for each:

Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field, Sept. 15, noon: The Packers open their season like they ended it last season – at Candlestick Park against the San Francisco 49ers. That’s a tough opener. They play the team that racked up 579 total yards against them in the playoffs with their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, slicing through the Packers defense literally untouched for 181 of those yards.

I don’t see the Packers winning this game on the road in the season opener. My hope is that the Packers are competitive and show the league they are for real. They must stay healthy, play a solid game and come home with a hopeful attitude and ready to fight another day.

That other day will come quickly as they host Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in the home opener at Lambeau Field. The Packers don’t want to start the season at 0-2 and have to bring their A-game for the fans. By that time, Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews will be signed to their mega-contracts and will have to play up to those deals for their fan base. The Packers defense will have to show and stop the high voltage running attack of the Redskins. Rodgers will have to do everything in his powers to move the offense against a defense with which they are not very familiar. This will be an opportunity to start quickly and roll to a home-opener win and get back on track. Being 1-1 would place the Packers in a good position at this point in the season.

The Packers defense has to come to play every game this season. Getting second-year linebacker Nick Perry back should help newly-signed Clay Matthews.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field, Oct. 20, noon: After their bye and games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, the Packers come back home sitting at either 4-1 or 3-2 to face the Browns – a team that over the past decade have been terrible, but dangerous. In other words, this could be the first trap game of the season. While the Browns have been building through the draft, have a solid running game with Trent Richardson, and an average offense behind quarterback Brandon Weeden, they have a formidable defense that has shown flashes of brilliance, but for the most part has been up and down the past few years.

I expect this to be a battle as these two teams are unfamiliar with one another. Again, Rodgers will have to lead the Packers in this one. Recent history has shown the Packers having a difficult time stopping the run. Expect the Browns to test that right out of the box as they look to pound the Packers into submission. While I feel the Browns will be competitive in this one, this is a game the Packers have to win – they can’t allow this to become one of those “shoulda-coulda-woulda” games. This is a game that, in the end, they have to demonstrate why it’s so difficult to come into Green Bay and leave with a win.

Philadelphia Eagles, Nov. 10, Lambeau Field, noon: This is another dangerous game and difficult to project in April. However, it could look one of two ways: The first scenario is that new coach Chip Kelly has the Eagles flying high under his wide open offense and the Eagles are the surprise of the season; the second scenario is that the Eagles are still in the rebuilding process and have a difficult time gelling under the new system.

There are questions about whether Tramon Williams will even make this year’s roster. He will have to bring his A-game in training camp.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

I would like to prefer the former. I would like to see the Eagles bring their best to Lambeau Field in this important NFC matchup that pits two teams that have a long history. If Michael Vick is the Eagles’ quarterback, he presents his own problems for the Packers, just as Kaepernick and RG3 will prior to this game. My hope is that by mid-season Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has his defense clicking and responding to the running-type quarterbacks.

That’s the only way the Packers win this game … well, they also need to have Rodgers show up. This is a game that could have playoff implications. At this point, I expect the Packers to come into Lambeau sitting around the 5-3 or 6-2 mark. That’s why it’s a must-win game. I expect the Eagles to have a similar record or something just a bit less. I expect them to be hungry and ready to give the Packers a game. This might be one that comes down to a field goal – and one that could make or break the season.

Atlanta Falcons, Dec. 8, Lambeau Field, 7:30 p.m.: This game is huge. It will be December under the lights at Lambeau Field in a nationally televised game against the Falcons – a team the Packers have had success against in the recent past. I’ve seen experts saying that the Falcons at this point in their season will have a losing record or might be right at the .500 mark.

If the Packers play as they are expected, they could be sitting at seven or eight wins and continuing their fight for another North Division title. Stopping Matt Ryan and Steven Jackson on the slow December turf will be key in this one. Again, the defense will have to come to play. Rodgers, historically, has had his way with the Falcons. Maybe it’s because the Atlanta defense doesn’t see him often, maybe it’s because Rodgers simply has Atlanta’s number. Whatever the case, he’s got to have his mojo heading into the final four games of the season.

I expect he will. This might be another one of those games that come down to a field goal and our hope is that Mason Crosby – if he is the Packers kicker – has his mojo with him, too. This has the makings of a great game and one that will not only be entertaining for the fans, but one that lifts the Packers into the elite status among NFC teams once again.

Pittsburgh Steelers, Dec. 22, Lambeau Field, 3:25 p.m.: This pre-Christmas late Sunday afternoon matchup with the Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers has the makings of a classic. The rematch of Super Bowl XLV will be played in Green Bay and should give the fans the best of the NFL. With such a rich tradition between these two teams that goes back more than 50 years, I’m sure this one won’t disappoint. Whenever the Steelers come to town, expect some hitting and good old-fashioned football.

That’s why the Packers must win this game. If all goes as I see it, Green Bay will come into this matchup with around 10 wins and will be fighting once again for the division title. This is the game that could give them their third straight title and qualify them once again for the playoffs.

It won’t be easy. Turnovers and special teams play are important at any point in the season, but have greater implications in December. The Packers take care of the ball, but the vastly improved Packers defense forces it from the Steelers. Though the Packers have their chances to blow this one open, it remains close down to the end and is again decided by four or fewer points.

This must-win game goes the Packers way and sends them to the playoffs.

While I’m an optimist and we all know how many factors could make all of this change in a heartbeat, I feel these are five games the Packers have to win to have any chance at another NFC North Division title and a shot at making the Super Bowl tournament.

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